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Hibachi: Wayne Rooney’s MLS Career Is Heating Up

Ranking the best parts of the D.C. United captain’s game-winning tackle-and-cross

Wayne Rooney in front of a soccer goal lit on fire Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On Sunday night, the nation’s capital erupted. It had nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s overzealous interest in Space Force, or with the White House in general. It also had nothing to do with the Washington Nationals playing that evening, which, in a perfect encapsulation of their lost season, ended with another wasted Max Scherzer gem after the Chicago Cubs hit a walkoff grand slam in the ninth inning off Ryan Madson.

No, the instigator of Sunday’s raucous event—the man who would be king of Washington, D.C., for the night, hails from Liverpool and once inadvertently got in a Twitter fight with himself. Behold, D.C.’s latest savior: His name is Wayne Rooney.

“Sick play by Wayne Rooney!!!” reads the title of Major League Soccer’s YouTube clip. The three exclamation points are commendable, but they might not do Rooney enough justice: He almost single-handedly orchestrated the greatest moment in the last decade of D.C. United’s history. Since the Black-and-Red captured their fourth MLS Cup title in 2004—yes, they have four rings to go with the Audi logo slapped on their new stadium!—United have been toiling in obscurity. In fact, despite Rooney’s late-match heroics, securing a 3-2 win over Orlando City, the team sits dead last in the Eastern Conference. (Granted, they’ve played fewer matches than any team in the league. But still, the situation is bleak.)

However, United fans celebrated for a night: Rooney’s play—chasing down and tackling Orlando City’s Will Johnson to prevent him from scoring on an open net, before hoofing the ball back into the penalty area for Luciano Acosta to head home in the final minute of stoppage time—will be immortalized in MLS lore. The sequence was that good. The play was so layered, so intricate, that we decided to rank its seven best moments.

7. The Goal

Yes, the goal itself is, somehow, the least compelling part of the play. But it was still terrific. It was Acosta who tracked down Rooney’s cross and put the ball into the net, and that is impressive in its own right: The Argentine midfielder is 5-foot-3.

The fact that Acosta was was able to get his head on the ball is an indictment of Orlando’s shoddy defense, but a goal’s a goal. Even more impressive: It rounded out a hat trick for United’s diminutive star.

6. Rooney’s Cross

Rooney’s cross was the soccer equivalent of a Hail Mary, but he deserves a ton of credit for dropping the ball into the perfect area of the penalty box. The looping cross tempted Orlando keeper Joe Bendik to come off his line, but he strayed far enough from the goal that it was out of his reach, stranding the keeper in an unfavorable position.

If you’re going to cross the ball in the waning moments of a match, you can hardly do better.

5. Acosta’s Celebration

No sooner did Acosta score the match winner than he was in the Audi Field stands getting swarmed by raucous fans. A winning goal is only as good as the celebration that follows it, and getting embraced by the home crowd is a staple that transcends multiple sports.

The crowd-ward leap is typically reserved for big-time occasions. But for DC United in 2018, this is as good of an excuse as anybody is going to get.

4. Acosta’s Trip

There was a clever (albeit dirty) play from Acosta when Orlando sprinted forward on the counter. When the ref turned his back toward the action, Acosta tripped a sprinting Orlando player, preventing him from joining the play sooner.

Acosta: hat-trick hero with subtle tripping skills that’d make Grayson Allen blush.

3. Rooney’s Bone-Crunching Tackle

None of the above would’ve been possible had Rooney not hustled back to prevent Johnson from either scoring himself or passing it along to an open teammate. Rooney covered a ton of ground. Reminder: He is 32 years old.

And the tackle itself could’ve ended disastrously—if Rooney had missed the ball, Orlando might not have scored, but the absolute unit of a Brit would’ve been slapped with a red card and possibly a longer suspension. As it stands, the tackle was immaculately timed; he got enough of the ball to justify the punishment dealt to Johnson’s legs (and ego).

2. The Fact That United’s Goalkeeper Was Even Up for a Corner

Before Acosta’s goal, the game was tied at 2. Because this is just a regular MLS game and not a cup tie with make-or-break goal difference in hand, there is no incentive for United to send goalkeeper David Ousted forward for a corner. Alas:

Ousted had no discernible reason to be up there—is head coach Ben Olsen risking points for pride?—but without his presence on the other side of the pitch, Rooney’s heroics never would have happened. Thank you, Ben Olsen, for this irresponsibly bold and possibly dumb decision.

1. Rooney’s Post-Goal Face

This is the face of my new, exhausted deity, who might still be on the brink of death. United still have a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, because MLS is weird. But I’m not sure that statistical model accounts for the fact that the Black-and-Red have four titles and Wayne Goddamn Rooney. Soon, it might take even longer to #CountTheRings.